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Going through the process

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Mapping production processes is far from simple given the many aspects that need consideration. Industry professionals offer Beth Sharp their views

Bruce Klimpke, Integrated Engineering Software

Whether they were building a motor, integrated circuit or turbine, in the old days design engineers would begin their work simply by cutting metal and evaluating the results. Modelling and simulation software has circumvented that by enabling users to design, test and construct the product before approaching anything in the real world.

The simulation industry can be broken down into three major groups: the mechanical, the thermal and the electromagnetic. Products and especially structures need to be mechanically sound and, should they become too hot or too cold, they tend not to work. Our area of focus is the electromagnetic. Within process design, electromagnetic interference needs to be taken into account to ensure that when the different components come together, the process works. The areas of relevance are amazingly varied – take food packaging, for example. People may question where electromagnetic fields fit into food production, but if someone is trying to design a bag that needs to be hermetically sealed there are many components within that process that involve electromagnetism. To seal the bag, two pieces of plastic need to be melted together to a precise temperature, often through induction heating.

One of the biggest challenges, however, comes from a system level. If a design engineer is working on a new type of running machine, for example, there are many components that need careful consideration such as the functionality of the electronics, the tension of the belts and the precision of the motors that drive them. It may seem simple to begin with, but once all those components are being pulled together, system simulation becomes invaluable as it enables the user to see how the product will work over time and how each part will interact with the others. Simulink, an environment for multi-domain simulation and model-based design, is the major product in this area, but CASPOC – our solution for modelling and simulating physical systems – is a little more specialised in that it’s geared to people who are tying electromagnetic components into their designs.

The key element of system simulation is that it presents a top level view. Knowing how a motor performs is one thing, but design engineers also need to tie that in with the fact that motor may need to drive a chain, and that chain could be attached to a gear that is turning onto a shaft that’s driving a belt. If you stack them together, each of those components has a slight time delay in how they react – the speed readout doesn’t appear instantaneously, for instance. Treadmills may seem like a crude example, given that the delay may not seem of consequence, but if the design relates to being able to turn a plane in order to avoid an incoming missile, then those time constraints are suddenly far more important. The physics behind those two examples are the same; it’s simply that one is more critical than the other.

I would say that, in the industry today, there is no way that a serious design of a system can be done without an advanced system simulator. Looking at products from the middle of the last century, we see that not only were they incredibly simplistic in their design, but that they weren’t subject to the safety, noise or weight requirements now placed on a product before it can be brought to market. Without a system simulator, it becomes difficult to meet those requirements.

Design engineers are being faced with having to learn more disciplines – they may have a clear understanding of thermal considerations, but the chances are they will need to at least talk the language of mechanical and electrical people. System simulations are emphasising the fact that great designs are no longer done by individuals. The team approach to design is becoming more critical and system simulation enforces that because design engineers can’t look at projects from their own specific point of view or be happy with the thought that ‘well, I got it working from my perspective’. Rather, they have to look at things in broader terms. This is a natural evolution of design, and system simulation is a big part of that.

Philippe Desfray, VP of R&D at Modeliosoft

Put simply, industrial process design is the use of process definition techniques to improve the production of products. Process improvements are measured in terms of speed, efficiency, cost or the quality of the end product. The challenge is found in the need to produce a model of the production that fits the reality, that is optimised and that covers all exceptions and issues that may arise. The process also needs to be measurable: it needs to have indicators that can be followed by the people responsible for maintaining the process. A process definition has to capture each aspect related to automation, such as software and mechanics, human interactions, resource consumption and relationships to the unpredictable external world.

Software process modelling offers well-established techniques that can help formalise industrial process design. By abstracting processes within a software model, users gain a more thorough understanding. In addition, it then becomes possible to reason around the process and test different hypotheses through the model. Users can simulate different scenarios and check expected properties related to key target indicators.

Models then provide companies with a valuable store of knowledge and understanding of core processes. Models can also be implemented on software process engines that coordinate the processes. Many modelling languages exist, such as IDEF0, and more recently the UML (universal modelling language) activity diagrams, or the BPMN (business process notation language). SysML is a standard for (technical) system modelling that encompasses UML.

They all give a fine level of precision for process modelling, allowing for simulation and automation. As they are standards, they are very well known and widely used, so a process described with these standards can be read and understood by a large number of people and software solutions. UML activity diagrams are very accurate with regard to information handling. They are well integrated within UML and appreciated by UML practitioners. BPMN diagrams are easy to understand by business people and have a useful set of shorthand for typical business process situations. IDEF0 is a standard used since the 1980s. In the industrial and technical fields, there are still many practitioners using it. However, that standard is not at all integrated with UML or BPMN and is not covered by the SysML standard.

BPMN is a more recent standard that has gained a strong level of acceptance. Increasingly, end users are requesting tools that can integrate multiple languages such as UML and BPMN to provide a broad modelling capability. There is a demand to consolidate and integrate UML, BPMN within unified modelling tools, simulation tools and execution engines. For complex systems, SysML is becoming a more popular language that also needs to support simulation.

Simon Allsop, director, sales Delmia, Dassault Systèmes

One of the big issues for manufacturers is process modelling. A car company will already have a process to design its vehicles, for example, and once designed, that information will be passed into the manufacturing arena via a bill of material which will specify the parts. This seems pretty clear, but often the process of setting out resources, from the factory and tools to the people, and turning those inputs into outputs needs improvement. Modelling software can encompass the materials, product and processes within a single 3D model that provides an overview and enables engineers to view things from a different perspective. For companies making complex, one-off products such as an aeroplane or building, the ability to see where they are at any stage of the process – in 3D – is very powerful.

Our 3D models are rich and can be viewed as a diagram so that companies can evaluate elements such as what space is needed in a factory. A more detailed view of machines can also be generated, as well as further models that show what the individual operating the machine would see and do.

We have different levels of 3D models that aim to deliver as close to the real-life experiences people can have when using and designing these systems as possible. In the past, this has been quite a written-down process, but software such as our V6 solution allows innovations to be made up front.

Companies prefer to have this visualisation, and as accurately as possible, so all the parts are contained and the engineers can see how it all fits together. Some of our customers, such as Bentley Motors, have built virtual environments so that the new cars they are designing can be shown to the people on the shop floor, providing them with the opportunity to comment on whether it is achievable or not.

One final point that needs to be emphasised is that manufacturing processes should be validated even before construction work

Tony Christian, director at Cambashi

When we look at the historical evolution of software as applied to industrial processes, we see that IT solutions have grown to revolutionise practices across the entire product lifecycle, from the initial development through to manufacture and maintenance in the field. Computer-aided drafting in 2D, for example, meant that drawings could be produced faster than previously possible. The business benefit of this was that the work could be done with fewer draftsmen – costs were saved while the specification and process remained the same.

When 3D CAD came along, drawings suddenly became a by-product of the 3D modelling as people could focus on the actual design of the product in 3D and then simply press a button to produce the drawing. The industry adapted to a new way of doing things and that trend has continued with the analysis and simulation programs that can now be plugged into the 3D designs. By enabling designers to share the same geometry base, the software enables multiple things to happen at once rather than doing things in a strictly linear way. It’s essentially reinventing the process.

Process design typically has three dimensions: the process itself that is going to be laid out, the technology available to enable it and the structure of the organisation that will carry it out. Reinventing processes within organisations that already have set ways of doing things can, of course, cause significant issues. The technology that organisations have at their disposal can often be ahead of their ability to exploit it properly, presenting definite barriers to improving efficiency and time to market. Companies are also grappling with the fact that advances in the technology mean that significant chunks of what was formerly specialist work, such as FEA, can now be integrated into general designers’ workflows. Although a specialist will at some point be required to check that everything has been done correctly, this can leave them needing to broaden their own skillsets.

The integration of design and manufacturing technologies has certainly had a significant impact. Manufacturers can get hold of the geometry early, run simulations of the manufacturing processes and send that information back to the designers, creating a constant feedback loop during the evolution of the designs. This cuts down on what was previously a long, drawn-out process that involved numerous reworkings.

The systems that design and run the manufacturing processes today are capable of picking up the product design data and using it to design the manufacturing facility in such a way that the workflow is optimised. This even extends to the layout of the facility itself.

Traditionally, where a facility has been designed in stages, there has been a considerable amount of rework when it comes to the architecture because if something is not quite right in one area, the manufacturing workflow will be compromised. Process design software enables top-to-bottom integration of the building design with production layout, down to a single process for a specific element such as the timing for constructing a car bonnet. The entire hierarchy fits together within the model so that it can be verified before building of the factory begins. 

Beyond that, comes the after-sales lifecycle. Engineering data is being managed in a holistic way across the entire life of the product, which means that companies can be far more efficient and innovative in how they run their operations after the product has been released. One classic example is the now-famous Rolls Royce aircraft engine ‘power by the hour’ model. Here, extremely sophisticated technology is supplied on a ‘per use’ basis, supported by product management technology that includes sensors within engines that feed data regarding condition and performance back to the company’s engineering system. Not only does this mean that the products don’t need to be stripped down for evaluation and maintenance so often, but the operational data can be used to enhance the design and performance of the next generation.

Of course, as a result of this lifecycle integration, applications are producing immense quantities of data that’s hard to organise and mine in an effective way. We’re seeing organisations worry a lot more about how to manage that mushrooming volume of information and ensure it is available for use down the line. High-performance cloud-based environments, such as Autodesk’s new PLM solution, will have a key role to play, especially for engineering firms, providing that businesses can come to terms with the security of it. Many large organisations insist on keeping their proprietary data internally and while a huge amount of effort is going into convincing the industry that cloud is secure, it’s difficult to determine what exactly will make people comfortable with the idea in the future.

Colin Watson, Symetri

The design software industry is on the cusp of a significant change. Many applications that used to be delivered on a DVD are now being distributed via cloud-based services. The end user subscribes to it, removing any transaction in terms of the traditional way sales were made. With this in mind, we launched Symetri Consulting Services at the beginning of 2012.

First and foremost, there’s a need from our clients to develop a consultative element with the correct professional skills – otherwise we won’t have a business in five years. If someone had asked me two years ago whether Symetri provided professional services I would have replied that we did. But what I really meant was that we offered customer support and provided training and implementation services. That’s different to the ability to examine a business and the engineering design process and collaborate with end users to make changes.

A second consideration is that our customers have been going through their own transitions and may not have the same number of staff as they did in the past. They are most likely still tendering and winning the same volume of work they used to, but now have to complete it using less people. A major problem we see many of them face is a lack of resource; specifically, an acute lack of skilled people. These companies, therefore, should look for guidance to help them make sense of what they have already invested in. Those are the main trends – and they’re important ones. There are always other driving forces, such as improving efficiency, reducing time to market and decreasing the amount of wasted material, but the key thing is that all of this is becoming not just nice-to-have, but must-have.

A further trend is the move to cloud. In a good way, this is set to disrupt working practices. Much of the innovation and analysis work that used to be done on desktops with high-end computing requirements will be now done on the cloud. In the future it will be possible to do analyses such as CFD and FEA on the cloud, and do them faster, with reduced costs and far more efficiency. Partner organisations will still lead with the software, but it will diminish in favour of consulting services over the next few years as cloud-based services take off.

The important thing for companies to remember is that advice on how to improve processes is out there. If businesses aren’t able to map available software solutions to the design process, or if they don’t have the time or resource to do so, they should engage a partner with the skills and accreditation to provide that service.